Thursday, 6 September 2012

Breast Cancer - Part One

Now and then life throws you a curve ball. Mine came just over a month ago when I discovered a lump in my breast. Last year a friend of mine had a mastectomy and chemotherapy and is now in the clear, and since then I have checked myself more frequently. At first I couldn't quite believe that it was a lump, but it was definitely different from the other side that Sunday morning. First thing on Monday morning I phoned the medical centre and requested an urgent appointment - the first available was on Thursday afternoon. My doctor reassured me that it was just a cyst and fired off an email on the spot to refer me to a breast care consultant. I did relax, especially as it had become rather painful after all the prodding and poking around, as I'd always thought that breast cancer was painless.

I received a call from the hospital appointments department on the following Monday and ended up with a cancellation appointment at a hospital about an hour's drive from home but just 36 hours later. Between finding the lump and arriving for the consultation at hospital my right breast was sore, itchy and I was experiencing shooting pains through it. The mammogram came first, not the most pleasant experience in my life, but neither was it the worst! The consultant was very nice and down to earth, examined me and then sent me for a core needle biopsy and an ultrasound scan of the breast and armpit. Done under local anaesthetic, the biopsy was far more unpleasant than the mammogram - it didn't hurt, but as the sample is taken it sounds and feels like a large staple gun going off inside your chest! After they'd peeled me off the ceiling and slapped on a little plaster I went off for another chat with the consultant.

Having been reassured by my doctor that it was just a cyst you can probably imagine how utterly floored I was to be told that there was a 90% chance that it was cancer. At first I thought he was saying that there was a 90% chance it wasn't nasty, but he calmly disabused me of that notion! The results of the biopsy were due back the day after I was to leave for a week in Crete so we made an appointment for the day I arrived home. Feeling physically and mentally shattered I then had to make the decision as to whether or not to tell anyone. I decided that I would tell my family and very close friends before the results and before my holiday to prepare them. I kept it all very matter of fact and upbeat - I realised that the thing that most concerned me was that I might lost my hair through chemo which I was really rather hacked off about as I feel it's my best feature! A lovely week with my friend and her daughter in Crete did me the world of good, although I have to admit to being a bit of a nervous wreck on the evening before we were due to come home.

The wait to be called through to see the consultant was stomach churningly nerve wracking, slight element of surprise as the original consultant was off sick so I was seeing someone different, however I instantly liked her. The news was swift and devastating, it was definitely cancer - level 2 invasive carcinoma. After the original consultation I'd resigned myself to the fact that it would be cancer so the initial shock didn't last too long. An appointment was made for the following week for another type of scan, pre-op assessment and the op and we discussed what the procedure would be. The sentinel lymph  node would be the first thing to be removed and sent straight to the lab for assessment while the lumpectomy was taking place, and based on the results the consultant would then either sew me up or remove more nodes to see how far the cancer had spread. 

Clutching a folder full of information leaflets and appointment sheets Mr LG and I left feeling a bit overwhelmed, and started the process of confirming the diagnosis to family and friends.